Ask LH: What's A Good University Laptop?

Dear Lifehacker, I'm just starting my second year of university and my home laptop is too bulky to take with me. I'm on the hunt for a secondary laptop but since I'm a full-time student, I'm on a bit of a budget. I don't have too many requirements — just that it is smaller, has long battery life, fits at least 2 USB ports and runs relatively smoothly. I'm really struggling to make a decision here. Any suggestions? Thanks, UniStudent

Laptop image from Shutterstock

Dear UniStudent,

As luck would have it, we recently published an in-depth guide on this very topic. Rather than regurgitate the entire article, I'm going to touch on the areas that relate to your personal needs. (We're going to assume you don't require 3D gaming or other intensive applications for this laptop.)

As this will be a secondary laptop, I think you can afford to go as small as possible; namely 10 to 13 inches. These models are highly portable and also boast longer battery life — two must-haves for any university laptop. On the downside, they tend to use cheaper components and obviously have much smaller keyboards. You should definitely test the typing and speed performance of these models prior to purchase to see how they handle.

When it comes to the central processing unit (CPU), you won't need anything higher than a Intel Core i5. If you're primarily using it for web browsing and basic word processing, you could even get by on a lower-end Celeron CPU. This will drastically cut the price of the laptop with some models selling for $300 or less. You should aim for 4GB of RAM; this will provide the best bang for buck and will ensure the laptop remains relatively zippy during basic multi-tasking.

If you don't mind spending a bit more money, go for a model with SSD storage and at least one USB 3.0 port. This will save a lot of time during file transfers and generally makes for faster productivity. We wouldn't place too much importance on screen resolution — the smaller screen makes it largely unnecessary; especially if you don't plan on doing much photo editing on the device.

For specific model recommendations, check out the aforementioned Back To School laptops guide — prices start at just $300.

Alternatively, you may want to consider buying a tablet with a Bluetooth-equipped keyboard. This approach will grant you longer batter life, a smaller/thinner device and the option to leave your keyboard at home. If you go down this route, just make sure that the tablet's OS is compatible with your laptop to make life easier.

We're also keen to hear what readers think. If you have any cheap laptop recommendations that would suit a university student, let us know in the comments section below.

Cheers Lifehacker

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    Personally I found a book and pen to be both the best and cheapest option. Battery life is never a concern, and while copying takes a lot longer you're actually more likely to remember writing it out for a second time than just dragging a file here or there. Pair it with your phone for taking photos of lecture slides and browsing the web (only had to do that once anyway) etc and I've never had an issue with not having a laptop. If you do get a laptop I recommend using the keyboard before buying, I personally wouldn't buy anything other than a Lenovo laptop for their amazing keyboards (I'm picky with my keyboards) and if you're using it to write Uni essays and notes it matters more than almost any other factor (having a mechanical keyboard at home has made writing essays far more enjoyable and I find I can focus longer because the act of typing itself is far more enjoyable).

      Yup. Don't stress out if you don't end up with a laptop. You'll remember more if you write it down and type it up at home. If you have time, that is!
      I have a little ASUS transformer with a detachable keyboard. I think I paid about $380 for it. It is slow and the keyboard is tiny. However, it has great battery life, I got used to the keyboard (although I am a lady so I have small hands) and it is super portable. It comes with 64gig but takes an SD card. I'm a teacher and I have a nice enough laptop provided by the school that stays in my office, but the little ASUS goes to lessons with me because it's super small.
      Senior school students have been replacing their large laptops with HP Streams where I work. They seem happy enough with them.

    I recall carrying several kilograms of books. In what way is your current laptop "too bulky"?
    Is it a 17" or 19" machine designed for playing games?

    You might not wish to consider a laptop. I use a Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1(2014), and find it to be ideal for production either in note taking, writing, spreadsheets, making or viewing presentations(this thing is fully Microsoft compatible, creation of, or editing original artwork or editing photographs or video, doing professional level sketches, doing multi-windowing searches, very fast internet access, data sharing and collaboration, etcetera.I'm still in coming education and find it invaluable in classes, both in note taking, and creating charts, sketches, etc., as the professor is holding forth, then, it's invaluable as I'm teaching my own classes.

    This wonderful tablet is available refurbished on the internet for less than $300, and is a wonderful laptop replacement. I also use it without an external keyboard, using Dragon's wonderful Swype keyboard positioned in the lower right hand of the screen, and working with Samsung's S Pen. This combination cannot be beat.

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